Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cassocks and Collars

I'm so excited because in just five days my oldest son, John, will be coming home from St. Joseph's College Seminary in Chicago and will stay with us for four wonderful and activity-filled days!  It will be his first time home since he left at the end of August.  I am so grateful for email, facebook, skyping, and phone calls because it makes the pain of missing him a little easier to endure.  I am also grateful for the fabulous blog that he writes which allows me to keep up on the things that he holds closest to his heart.  Through his blog, which he recently renamed "Cassocks and Collars" from "Writings of a Boy Discerning God's Call", I have learned about how he has been adjusting to life at the seminary and about how deeply he holds to the truths of Catholic teaching as well as how committed he is to upholding those truths.  I was particularly moved by his post on the Eucharist and his letter to the president.   The words he shares are bold and enlightening and although he has only been a college seminarian for a little over a month, I am certain that his future in the Church will be very bright.

If you have never visited his blog before, I invite you to take a look at what he shares on "Cassocks and Collars" and offer him your support through words of encouragement and prayer.

St. Tarcisius and Involvement of the Laity

Because of conflicting work schedules, my family and I chose to attend a nearby church that offered a late-evening Saturday Mass.  It had been many years since we had been to that parish and we found that a lot had changed over the years.

The Mass was pleasant with an enthusiastic priest and a moderate-sized congregation that prayed wholeheartedly.  At the end of Mass, the cantor got up to make an announcement.  Apparently the parish is suffering from lack of involvement by the laity.  "Who will assist the priest at Mass?"  he asked, and it was then that I realized that it was very unusual that there had not been any acolytes at the altar.  My son Justin, who went to that church the previous week, mentioned that there had not been any lector at the Mass he attended, and he said that the priest proclaimed all of the readings.

Then the cantor went on to share a beautiful story....

"When I was a boy, my favorite saint was St. Tarcisius.  During the early days of Christianity, when Mass was held in the catacombs, there was a group of Christians being held in prison.  They longed to receive spiritual nourishment from the Holy Eucharist but there was no one who could take it to them.  If the bishop or the priests were to go, they would surely be murdered.  Although Tarcisius was only a young boy, he begged to be allowed to help with this important mission.  After some hesitation, the bishop agreed to let Tarcisius carry Jesus to the prisoners.

The hosts were carefully wrapped in cloth and placed in a container which Tarcisius carefully held close to his breast as he began his treacherous journey.  As he was nearing the prison with the Blessed Sacrament clutched close, he passed some school mates who were playing a game.  They invited Tarcisius to join them, but he refused.  One of them noticed that he was carrying something and they began to taunt him about what it might be that he was protecting so carefully.  The boys then realized that Tarcisius was a Christian and that he was carrying a Christian "mystery".  They tried to pry the Blessed Sacrament from him but Tarcisius would not let go.  So the boys beat him until he was near death.  Along came a Roman soldier who pulled Tarcisius away from the boys and took him away to a quiet place.  It was there that Tarcisius discovered that the Roman soldier was really a Christian as well.  Tarcisius handed his Treasure to the soldier and asked him to carry it to the prison for him.  Then he died in the soldiers arms."

The cantor went on to say, "I always wanted to be like St. Tarcisius and have the honor of delivering Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to others.  So when the changes in Vatican II came about, allowing the laity to serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, I was the first in line to offer my help.  But today, the laity aren't taking the precious opportunity to help the priest at the altar seriously.  Too many are just content to sit in the pew without taking an active part in the Mass.  We need you for this important work.  Father needs you!  He needs you to help as lectors, cantors, acolytes and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.  Who will assist the priest at the altar?"

Even though we aren't members at that parish, my family and I all felt moved by the story of St. Tarcisius and the need for the laity to be more involved in the liturgy.  We are prayfully considering how God may be calling us to serve Him at Mass. How might you take a more active role in the life of your parish by assisting the priest at Mass?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cross Over

For my beautiful daughter, Mary...

Long, silky strands of golden brown hair sift through my fingers as I braid your shiny tresses.  I cross over and then cross over yet again, back and forth until the plait is complete, never letting go of my firm grip on the satiny locks.

I want to hold on to you just as tightly as I hold on to your hair as you cross over into your teen years, that time that is sure to be turbulent at some moments, and triumphant at others.  Knowing that I must let go and allow you some space to grow, I offer you to the grip of the Lord and ask Him to hold onto you with all His might.

Back and forth your life will cross over, a varied intertwining of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, energy and exhaustion, wholeness and hurt, peace and anxiety, virtue and sin.  But have no fear of the crossings, for He will hold you tightly, weaving and crossing over with you as your path winds and turns and twists until you are safely wrapped in his love, forever braided into Him for all time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Turn to Beauty

The ugliness of a day
gone wrong
hangs heavy upon my soul.

I long to push the memory
to the depths of my mind
where it should spoil and rot.

But shame has mighty power
it's own
so far from my self-control.

Lurid and lingering details
return to haunt me still;
overcome them I cannot.

I carry the weight and sink
in sin;
distant is my peace-filled goal.

He invites me to come to Him
and bring as gift all the
dark in which I am so caught.

Then He speaks words so tender;
His love
returns my heart back to whole.

The ugly turns to beauty
and I will cope and thrive.
See what His great love has wrought?

Friday, September 21, 2012

The World is Hungry

"The world is hungry for the Eucharist, adored and received! "
~Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ

On September 9th, Roses for Our Lady sponsored a Eucharistic Rosary Procession during our monthly holy hour for vocations in honor of the Blessed Mother's birth.  Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer, had the honor of carrying our Lord in the procession.  I posted this picture, taken by Eve Anna Urlakis, to Roses for Our Lady's facebook page and it has been shared 16 times including in locations across the world, which is incredible to me considering the fact that Roses for Our Lady is just a small, local group in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine!  Praised be Jesus Christ in the most holy Sacrament of the altar, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More on Jessica Powers

Jessica Power's gravestone in the dark
 (Can you read it? Try clicking on
it to see it better)
Have you ever done something entirely foolish and impulsive on a whim?  I admit that I have, more than once.  In fact, just this past Tuesday, I was drawn to hunt down the burial site of Jessica Powers after I wrote about her here on this blog.  I was determined to pay immediate homage to her and could not wait for a sunny afternoon to scout out her burial place.

So after I picked up my daughter, Mary,  from her volleyball practice, we raced across town to Holy Cross Cemetery hoping to find the gravestone of Jessica Powers before nightfall.  Holy Cross Cemetery is quite large and even though we had directions from the cemetery office, we were just about to give up the hunt, feeling that it was a hopeless venture, as the dark night was quickly overtaking us.  We were beginning to feel just a bit more than deliciously frightened to be in the cemetery after dark and decided that the sane thing to do would be to give up the search and come back on a brighter day, when I stumbled across the humble plot of the Carmelite nun, which, considering the fact that she was a lover of nature, was fittingly beside a lovely pond where ducks quietly floated under the branches of a weeping willow tree.  "Here it is!" I shouted with joy, startling my daughter who was keeping up a brave appearance despite the desolate surroundings.  Together we offered a prayer for the soul of the long-gone woman and then I recited my favorite poem of hers, The Valley of the Cat-tails.  Mary quickly took a picture of the small headstone and we raced back to the car and headed home.

The next day I was inspired to write a poem of my own to ingrain that paparazzi-like moment in my mind forever.  When I read it to my children, Joe asked me how long I spent writing it and I responded that I worked on it for all of ten minutes.  "I could tell," replied Joe.

I offer my quickly transcribed poem here for your amusement, followed by Jessica Powers' The Valley of the Cat-tails.  You will see that I have a long way to go before anyone will be searching through a cemetery in the dark looking for my gravestone in an effort to honor me!

Poet by the Pond:  by Me

As early evening shades of gloom
cast themselves over every tomb
two brave women came walking

In search of one whose fame was known
for poetry of God's love that shone
in hearts that now were stalking

And when at last through careful comb
they found her everlasting home
they rejoiced with shouts and talking

After quiet prayer and recitation of poem
from melancholy yet small-sized tome
the task was now completed

The camera clicked in evening dark
and women ran to leave the park
for the van was warmly heated

They left the grave beside the pond
trusting that Sr. Miriam was beyond
this earth she long had fleeted

The Valley of the Cat-tails (from The Lantern Burns)

My valley is a woman unconsoled.
Her bluffs are amethyst, the tinge of grief;
Her tamarack swamps are sad.
There is no dark tale that she was not told;
There is no sorrow that she has not had.
She has no mood of mirth, however brief.

Too long I praised her dolors in the words
Of the dark pines, her trees.
And the whippoorwills, her sacred birds.
Her tragedy is more intense than these.

The reeds that lift from every marsh and pond
More plainly speak her spirit's poverty.
Here should the waters dance, or flowers be.

Her reeds are proper symbols of a mother
Who from the primer of her own dark fears,
As if the caroling earth possessed no other,
Teaches her young the alphabet of tears.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jessica Powers

Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit
Not too long ago, Magnifacat Magazine published a beautiful poem by Jessica Powers, a name that was completely unknown to me.  I lingered over the final words of that poem, The Garments of God, which read:

"here in the dark I clutch the garments of God."

And I clutched those words throughout the day, pondering about who the author of such wonder could be.  I didn't have to think on it for long, as within a day I found a blog post by Easter from Hawaii, and learned that she, too, was enamored by the poem penned by that unknown poetess.  But Easter did more than I did, she began to search in an effort to learn more about Jessica Powers and she found this wonderful website with a wealth of information about Jessica Powers, who spent most of her life as Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, a Carmelite nun living at the Carmel of the Mother of God in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.  I had the honor of praying at that very same convent  with my niece several years ago and had no idea that I was in the earthly home of so great a poet.  I wrote about that prayer experience here and after re-reading that post I'm going to have to make an effort to get back out to that convent for some one-on-one time with the Lord, and this time I will be praying for the intercession of a saintly poet!

After learning that Jessica Powers was the author of several volumes of poetry, I quickly put in a request at my favorite library, St. Francis de Sales Seminary's Salzmann Library, and was soon holding every book by or about this wonderful poet within my hands.  Jessica Powers was a close friend to Green Bay's Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau and several of her books of poetry were collected and edited by this local holy man.  You can read an article of his about her here.

One of the things that impresses me the most about Jessica Powers is that she has a great love for nature, specifically the wilds of Wisconsin.  I brought several of her poetry editions along with me when my family and I took a recent camping vacation to Devil's Lake State Park just south of her hometown of Mauston.  While sitting around the campfire, my husband suggested that we have a poetry reading, with my children, and he and I each taking a turn reading one of her poems aloud.  After each reading, everyone snapped their fingers, which is apparently the hip thing to do to show appreciation for the poem instead of clapping.  I was just so happy to introduce spiritual poetry to my family as willing participants that although I would have preferred silence in lieu of the snapping, I went along with the game anyway and found that it was most enjoyable.  If the Spirit inspires you, feel free to snap your fingers after reading the following poems by Jessica Powers, or simply absorb them in silence.

Doves (from:  The Lantern Burns)

A dove in the air,
A dove in the sea,
And a dove in your glance
When you look at me.

Feather of dusk,
Wings in the grain,
And a crumpled bird
In the wake of pain.

Everywhere doves
With their drifting wings;
In a dream, in a song
That a poet sings;

In the touch of death,
In the kiss of love,
And God Himself
As a snow-white dove.

The Seventh Station (from:  The Place of Splendor)

The corner is dark and nobody sees this station.
He falls again, and the picture has nothing new.
The air is musty, crowded under the choir loft,
And people pass with a hurried glance or two.

I think that it must have been true in ancient Juda
As it is true on this shaded chapel wall
That He Whose love had rooted itself in suffering
Would find the most uncomforting place to fall.

Take Your Only Son  (from:  The House at Rest)

None guessed our nearness to the land of vision,
not even our two companions to the mount.
That you bore wood and I, by grave decision,
fire and sword, they judged of small account.

Speech might leap wide to what were best unspoken
and so we plodded, silent, through the dust.
I turned my gaze lest the heart be twice broken
when innocence looked up to smile its trust.

O love far deeper than a lone begotten,
how grievingly I let your words be lost
when a shy question guessed I had forgotten
a thing so vital as the holocaust.

Hope may shout promise of reward unending
and faith buy bells to ring its gladness thrice,
but these do not preclude earth's tragic ending
and the heart shattered in its sacrifice.

Not beside Abram does my story set me.
I built the altar, laid the wood for flame.
I stayed my sword as long as duty let me,
and then alas, alas, no angel came.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fifty Likes

I didn't sleep well last night and when I finally did succumb to the heavy lids and the deep breath of sleep I didn't want it to end and it was difficult to wake up at the 4:30 AM alarm.  A kiss good bye from my husband at 5 AM as he left for work didn't draw me out of bed, either. What seemed like a short time after Paul left, I was vaguely aware of the sound of one of my children pouring cereal in the kitchen, but I was never fully aroused by the noise.  It was ten after six when my daughter came into my room, already fully dressed for school, and, surprised to find me still asleep, quietly asked me what was going on.  With her words I finally woke up, jumped out of bed shocked that I slept so late and feeling a bit panicky that I would have to rush to get ready for the day.

As I groggily stumbled into the kitchen, I was greeted by my son, Joe, who showed me a post on his facebook wall that startled me into a wide awake state.  A young girl with whom he is acquainted wrote:  "Just found out that I'm pregnant.  Fifty 'likes' and I'll keep it."  My son was horrified that this girl could be so flippant about the life of her baby and wondered if this wasn't a hoax.  Sadly, the status only had two "likes" at the time that Joe came across it, so I challenged him to not only "like" it, but to share it and encourage others to "like" it so that the young mother would see that life is valuable to many more than fifty people.

Joe decided that he would wait to try to determine the truth as to whether or not she was really pregnant or this was simply a bogus post for attention before he would get drawn into the controversy in a public way.  He wanted an opportunity to speak with her individually.  I am praying for him today that he will have that chance to talk one and one with her, and that God will give him the right words to say to impress the sacredness and value of life upon her heart, including the sacredness and value of her own life.

I work for the Women, Infants and Children Program and often meet women who are scarred by previous abortions.  It was just a few weeks ago when I met a woman who was pregnant with her fourth child.  She told me that it took her a while to realize that she was pregnant because she didn't believe that pregnancy was possible for her anymore.  She said that she had been in an abusive marriage and when she became pregnant with her third child, she chose to abort that baby.  Afterward, when she felt the time was right, she and her husband tried to conceive again, but couldn't.  She blamed herself for her infertility, thinking that God was punishing her for killing her baby, and she suffered horribly from the effects of regret.  Upon discovering her current pregnancy she was overjoyed to learn that she really isn't infertile and that God was giving her another chance to mother a newborn into this world.  She was determined to make the most of that chance and to be the best mother she can possibly be by starting right now to take good care of herself and the new life growing within her.

Why is it, I wonder, that so many women need to learn the hard way, through sorrow and tears, that abortion is a decision they will long regret?  Why can't they see than an abortion doesn't just kill their baby, but that it kills part of their own souls as well?  How many dead babies does it take until abortion is no longer the facetious topic of a facebook status and an everyday reality of our world?

Please consider taking some time to join in prayer for an end to abortion at this year's 40 Days for Life Campaign in your local area, which begins on September 26th and runs through November 4th.  To learn more about how you can help increase awareness for the sanctity and value of human life and to help save the lives of the unborn, please visit this link.